As a new bleary-eyed mother of babies, I joined a small group on Tuesday mornings led by my friend, Priscilla. She's a beautiful (inside and out) woman with red hair that matches her spunky personality and a heart the size of her native state of Texas. I grew accustomed to Priscilla's deep emotion and the tears she frequently sheds in her passionate discourses on marriage, motherhood and Jesus. But her tears would confound me when they were shed over her love for women and, specifically, women's ministry. I thought it was sweet--but I just didn't get it.
My ministry focus has always been on the more 'obviously' needy--the impoverished, the young, the hurting, the abused and neglected. I was simultaneously impressed and confused by P's compassion for a people group that didn't seem nearly as 'needy.'
Eight years later I am starting to get it. It happens as I read heartfelt email messages from women who visit this blog. I note that it is the posts about our common struggles with inadequacy that resonate most. I read comments from sisters on this journey who thank me for being authentic enough to allow them feel a bit more normal. It is solidly reinforced on mornings like today where I do my favorite thing--share heart-to-heart conversation with a colaborer trying to be a good steward of the hearts God entrusted to her through her family. Apparently, there are a whole lot of well-dressed, nicely coiffed, all together looking, needy women.
Every time I pause long enough to really connect with another woman I realize how very much we have in common. Our love for our people always seems to outweigh our abilities to 'do' all that we want to for them. Our passion for the Lord is no match for the pull of our flesh and the pitfalls of sinful hearts. Most of the women I know really desire to be different...we just keep finding ourselves tripped up by the realities of life. In our overwhelm, we tend to either shut down or settle.
In the quiet places, through tears, most of us will confess we want so much more than this. I don't mean more 'stuff.' I want more love, more joy, more peace, more fulfillment. I want less pride, selfishness, fear and insecurity.
I picked up a new book yesterday (although I have at least four from this Summer I haven't yet finished :-) and it had me completely after this passage on page five:
"We all hope the promise of abundant life is attainable in our lives, but we keep stubbing our toes on obstacles and joy-stealing, love-sucking issues we don't know how to change.
We give our issues cute titles.
When we believe life is as good as it's gonna get we make an expensive trade in on our souls. We stuff away the raw and messy and put forth a nicer but cheaper, plastic version of ourselves. Our story is clean and easy--but also fake. We aren't seeing a true image anymore--the image God made and is making of us--we have built our own acceptable image...It slowly kills what is beautiful and unique and turns us into half-dead versions of what we were meant to be."
-Nicole Unice, She's Got Issues
Ugh!! Is she in my brain and heart?
I couldn't help but laugh at the irony when I was reading this book yesterday in the cardio room at my local YMCA. I was holding it in front of me as I rode the stationary bike. Despite the fact a dozen people were working out, it was silent but for the sounds of the treadmills, weights and bikes. Then to my shock an older woman walking by my machine gave me the once over and LOUDLY pronounced, "She's got issues!"
While I knew it was my book title, her lack of any further comment as she kept walking away made it feel much more like a verdict. It is true, of course, but not the type of thing you'd like heralded out to strangers in a weight room.
I don't want to be fake, but I don't want to advertise all my dirty laundry either. I am walking through a season of asking God to keep me truthful--about my need and about His provision. I don't want to glorify my sin with cute titles and entertaining stories--neither do I want to sweep it under the rug and become a cheap, plastic version of what my Creator has in mind.
I can't help but think of our human need to put people in boxes. How frequently we seem to want to sum people up in a tidy little paragraph: "She's nice but..." My identity includes my sinfulness, but is not defined entirely by it. I have been declared "a new creation," even while I struggle to live like it.
I know I am not alone. THIS is why I have grown to adore ministering to women. I love nothing more than just getting real. We need to cut through the bologna and realize we ALL have our junk. That doesn't mean our junk is Ok, that we should boast in it, define ourselves by it or camp out there. I think it means we need to treat each other kindly and bear one another's burdens.
Let's carry all this junk to the foot of the cross and leave it there. May we learn to encourage each other honestly--not with words like, "Oh, honey, you are normal. It's Ok. At least it's not..." Instead, let's challenge each other to be who God intended. Let's lay our burdens at His feet and walk in the freedom for which we have been set free. Together. With encouragement. In love. Believing the best.
It's a tall order, but one He can handle.